Meta Descriptions: Basics, Examples & Best Practices

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Updated 2/2/2024

Meta descriptions are HTML tags for pages that provide context to search engines and searchers. Learn how to use them well here.

meta description spyglass and bubbles

Strong meta descriptions are key to SEO and optimizing your web pages for search engine results. They provide a concise summary of your content and can entice users to click on your link.

In this article, we will explore the purpose of meta descriptions, provide real-world examples, discuss their optimal length, and offer best practices for writing effective meta descriptions.

What is a Meta Description?

A meta description is an HTML attribute that concisely summarizes your webpage’s content. It is displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs) below the page title and URL.

A well-crafted meta description can entice users to click on your link, potentially increasing your click-through rate (CTR) and driving more organic traffic to your site.

Real-World Example

Let’s look at an example from a popular SERP:

Apple SERP listing

The big red arrow points to the meta description, as you might expect. In this case, Apple is promoting announcements after a WWDC conference.

The meta description mentions new products to entice the reader to click on the result and learn about the product updates.

In this case, the meta description is too long, as it gets cut off after “M2”. While that shouldn’t be an issue for Apple, we recommend writing meta descriptions that are short enough that they don’t get cut off.

Fictional Ones

The right meta description for a page depends on the page’s content. Here are some other examples of possible options for different homepages:

  • Online Store: “Shop the latest fashion trends and save up to 50% on your favorite brands. Free shipping on all orders!” Notice how the description entices the searcher with a discount and other value propositions.
  • Food Blog: “Discover delicious recipes, cooking tips, and mouth-watering food photography to inspire your culinary adventures.” This one uses various keywords to cover different content and search intent.
  • Travel Website: “Explore top travel destinations, insider tips, and expert advice to help you plan your next unforgettable vacation.” Provides key details on what the searcher can find if they click through, incentivizing exploration.

How long should meta descriptions be?

The general recommendation is to aim for 110-160 characters. This ensures they’re long enough to provide plenty of keywords and context, but short enough not to get cut off in search results.

Are meta descriptions a ranking factor?

No! No! No, from the source! This means that Google doesn’t consider them in their search algorithm to determine search rankings.

Meaning, you don’t need to worry about them to rank better in search results. They only affect CTR, which can be valuable for pages, especially important pages like the homepage or product and service pages.

How to apply a meta description

Applying one to your web pages depends on your platform or content management system (CMS). Here are the general steps and examples for basic HTML:

HTML Tag

Here’s the tag by itself:

 <meta name="description" content="Summary of the page">

Replace “Summary of the page” with actual content, naturally.

In an HTML Page

For a basic HTML website, you’ll need to manually add the meta description tag within the <head> section of your webpage. Here’s an example:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
  <title>Your Page Title</title>
  <meta name="description" content="Your compelling meta description goes here.">
</head>
<body>
  <!-- Your webpage content -->
</body>
</html>

Replace “Your compelling meta description goes here.” with your actual one. How to implement this will depend on how your website is built.

Best Practices

Keep these in mind when writing meta descriptions for best SEO results.

  • Length: Aim for 110-160 characters. This ensures your description is long enough that it demonstrates value, but not so long that it gets cut off.
  • Be Descriptive: Accurately describe your webpage’s content and emphasize its unique value.
  • Use Keywords: Include relevant keywords that match the user’s search intent, but avoid keyword stuffing.
  • Be Compelling: Write persuasive copy encouraging users to click on your link.
  • Avoid Duplicates: Craft unique descriptions for each page on your site to avoid dull and duplicate search listings. Those are a bad signal to users and search engines.

For more, see Google’s official guidance on creating good snippets for search results.

Tools

Try these out to help with your meta description and general SEO efforts.

  • SERP Simulator: A handy tool by Mangools (we didn’t name it) that displays a good estimate of what your meta description will look like, as well as your title tag and other key considerations for your search listing.
  • Yoast SEO: A popular WordPress plugin that helps you optimize your meta descriptions, titles, and other on-page SEO elements. Great for users of the world’s most popular CMS.
  • Google Search Console: Monitor your website’s search performance and analyze your meta description efforts and CTR results.
  • Ahrefs Webmaster Tools: This free tool from Ahrefs can audit your site and provide an automated report on which descriptions are too short or too long.

For more recommendations, check out our free SEO tools roundup. You’ll find lots more goodies there, we assure you.

Bottom Line

Meta descriptions are a key element for any SEO strategy. They act as details to the headline, the context after the big blue billboard text.

Aim for 110-160 characters and use keywords. Write for humans, as they are the ones who will be reading the text and using it to decide if they want to (hopefully) click on your result. ?

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